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Dr Brigid McClure is the Head of Directorate & Strategy Delivery at London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE).
How would you characterise your current work?
My role is to support and advise the LSE Director, Dame Minouche Shafik, on the delivery of the university’s long-term strategy. This partly includes overseeing a portfolio of major transformational programmes, but, more importantly, it is about embedding strategy into the daily rhythms of the university.
How do you feel about maths?
Positively - I think of maths as a language that allows you to conceptualise and communicate complicated things in powerful ways
What is it about your work that is mathematical?
A lot of my work involves working with quantitative data to inform planning and decision-making, the allocation of resources, and building business cases for investment. I’m also responsible for reporting on progress to our board of governors, which involves working with baselines, targets and benchmarks.
How do you use maths, calculation or numeracy in your work? What tools do you use to help you?
Successful strategy requires resources to point in the right direction, but university resource allocation models are very complicated, and the higher education section is currently facing unprecedented financial challenges and volatility. I have specialist Planning and Finance colleagues who do the more difficult modelling and accounting using advanced skills and specialist software, but I need to be able to understand their work and ask sensible, sometimes even challenging, questions. More locally, in managing my own team, I also often draw on concepts from music and dance (e.g. rhythm, frequency or harmony), which are fundamentally mathematical.
Do you think maths is creative? If so, how?
Of course - like any language, it allows you to play with concepts, prompt new understandings, and find novel ways of expressing ideas. And the more I understand how the financial management of an organisation works, the more I realise it is definitely an artform!
Do you use or rely on any maths that you learnt in school?
I use basic numeracy regularly - not so much the six pure maths modules I studied at A-level. At the time I enjoyed the elegance of equations and proofs, but I wish now that I had paid more attention to mechanics and statistics as I think they would be more useful in my daily life.
How would you change the school curriculum, if you had the chance? Why?
I remember learning a lot of maths by repetition and memorising formulae and ‘tricks’. But with computers now literally at our fingertips, I think it’s increasingly important that people grow up with a firm grasp of how the underlying mathematical concepts and relationships work. I also don’t remember ever learning about profit & loss statements, balance sheets, mortgages or pensions - if they were familiar ideas from childhood, perhaps they would be less scary as an adult!
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